Balinese Temple Etiquette 101: Know Before You Go

Image of a Balinese temple with colorful flowers in the foreground. Learn Balinese Temple etiquette: The Travel Yogi

From vibrant fire dances to simple canang sari offerings in the street, Balinese culture is indistinguishable from its spiritual heritage. So if you’ve been dreaming of Bali (which, for the record, who hasn’t been?), we know you’ve been dreaming of walking through one of Bali’s thousands of spectacular temples. While we can’t visit them now (pandemic closures… we know you know), what we can do is prepare for that happy day when we can. Keep reading to learn the rules of Balinese temple etiquette and what you need to know before you go.

So, You Want To Visit Sacred Balinese Temples?

Before you try to run into a temple wearing your bikini and flip flops, it’s super crucial to learn the do’s and don’ts of visiting. No one’s perfect, but we’re all capable of being culturally respectful in Balinese temples. Mainly, it’s about learning the customs and being aware of Balinese culture—not just your own.

Paying attention to these cultural differences is where the mind-opening magic takes place. It’s about learning a way of life different from what you’ve got going on back home.

Balinese temples do a lot more than making tourists go, “wowww”. They are not only stunningly beautiful, sacred, and full of history, but a way to learn about Bali’s unique culture. Unlike the majority of Indonesians, 83.5% of Balinese practice Balinese Hinduism, which is a mix of the Shiva sect of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. Temples are an intricate part of daily Balinese life and can be found in every village in Bali, where local sculptors create intricate designs from scratch. So, when you enter a Balinese Temple, you are not only entering a beautifully crafted architectural feat but the sacred grounds where Balinese pray. Ready to learn how to be respectful in Bali? Let’s go! 

Balinese Temple Etiquette 101:  

1. Wear a Sarong 

A sarong is a large piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and covers your legs. These are a must-have while traveling in Bali. Buying a sarong in Bali is practical and a great keepsake, but if you don’t feel like purchasing one for keeps, most Balinese temples have rentals at the entrance. 

2. Cover Your Upper Body

Thought all you needed to do was wear a sarong? Nope, you also need to make sure your upper body is covered. That means don’t show your back or shoulders. If you need help remembering, they’re the spots where you probably have the gnarliest sunburns. 

3. Take Off Your Shoes 

You’re invited into the temple, but your shoes aren’t. Think of this as an opportunity to show off your Chaco tan. But seriously, no Chacos, flip flops, sneakers, or any other kind of shoe is permitted inside of the temple. 

4. Don’t Point Your Feet at the Altar

Make sure that your feet are never pointing towards the shrines or holy objects. Men should cross their legs when praying, and women should kneel. Your feet should also not be lifted high up.

So, ahem, this one’s for us, yogis: don’t show off your yoga poses in or around the temples… big Balinese no-no.

In Balinese culture, feet are considered unclean, and thus unacceptable to be shown in front of holy objects or shrines. To be fair, your feet probably are dirty after all that walking around, but even if they are squeaky clean in your eyes, they’ll never be clean enough to get out of this rule.

5. When Not To Enter a Temple 

If you are currently menstruating, or actively bleeding from a cut, you are not permitted entry to the temples. While this can be a bit controversial to many Western tourists, it’s important to remember and respect the culture, even if you don’t agree with it. In Balinese Hinduism, blood is considered to be impure, and thus not appropriate to enter the holy spaces. If you gave birth within the past 6 weeks, or are currently pregnant, you should also not enter the temple.

6. Think Positively While Inside

This one isn’t quite a rule, but a practice you can keep in mind. Because Balinese Hinduism puts special emphasis on positive energy and the ability to create good in the world from your thoughts, try your best to think positive thoughts while in the temple. Definitely don’t curse or start a fight with your spouse or travel buddy. This is not the time to complain about being hangry or argue about anything!

In fact, losing one’s temper is considered shameful in Balinese, as is raising one’s voice or being confrontational. If you can avoid it, don’t show your anger in public and refrain from that Western loudness that you’re used to. So, that means don’t squeal with excitement in and around the temple, or yell, “I freeeakin’ love Bali!!” at the top of your lungs.

7. Use Common Sense

We can’t write out every common-sense rule on how to be respectful in a holy place, so use your best judgment. Don’t be obnoxious and thoughtless in your photo taking (i.e. don’t take photos of people without their consent, or use a flash). Don’t get in the way of any ceremonies or progressions, and be quiet! 

Don’t forget that these temples are places of prayer, not just architectural wonders, or a museum for tourists. Don’t be loud, don’t force entry into closed-off rooms and holy areas, and don’t sit on any walls or statues. Quite simply, don’t act like a brat.5

Don’t even think about bringing a drone!

8. Don’t Use Your Left Hand to Touch or Give

If you shake hands or pass something to someone, use your right hand exclusively. Many people in Bali use their left hand for hygienic purposes (yes, we mean to… wipe you know what and where…) so it is not polite or considered sanitary to use the left hand for other purposes. The only exception is if you were to use both of your hands to hand something to someone, which is considered a high compliment. 

9. Don’t Touch Anyone’s Head

Not that you wanted to, but if you get the urge to reach out and touch someone’s head—don’t. In Balinese Hinduism, the head holds the soul—and the soul should be handled with care and respect. This is the case with kids too, so don’t pat any kid heads while you’re there. 

10. Don’t Step on a Canang Sari in the Street

Canang sari are offerings to the Creator that locals place on the streets each morning. They are small groupings of flowers, herbs, and palm leaves. Accidents happen, but if you step on a canang sari, you will deeply offend any Balinese who sees your mistake. So, get your head out of the clouds and watch your step!

So, you offended someone (or many people! whoopsies!), what now? We get it… we’re not perfect either. ​​The Indonesians, especially the Balinese, are very tolerant. But, if you feel the need to apologize one can say, “Minta maaf,” or “Saya sangat minta maaf,” while putting the palms of your hands together in front of your chest (kinda like a Thai ‘Wai’).

11. Don’t Point or Beckon With Your Index Finger.

If you need to point out something or get someone’s attention, don’t point. Instead, loosely cup your fingers and use your thumb to gesture. To get someone’s attention, extend out your hand palm facing down and wave in a downward fashion. 

Experience Bali with The Travel Yogi

Now that you know the do’s and don’ts of Balinese temple etiquette, it’s time to plan your Bali yoga adventure. At The Travel Yogi, we cultivate once-in-a-lifetime yoga adventures for the wanderlust globe trotter. If you want to go to Bali, we’ll take you there and show you things you didn’t know you wanted to see. We’re talking about exploring off the beaten path wonders by taste bud, foot, bike, and wave. You’ll dine with locals, stand in awe at the green rice terraces, and respectfully explore the esteemed Balinese temples of your dreams. 

Ready To Go?

We are ready to take you! Almost. While we can’t travel just yet, we can take this time to read up on our next destination of choice (Bali, duh). We promise that doing your homework on your destination makes the experience even more enticing, thrilling, and interesting once you’re there. And get excited! Travel has tons of health benefits and is even good for your mental health. You deserve an escape from the grind and an experience in a magical oasis. So, come on, get planning. Bali is waiting for you.